Emma Carbary, a sophomore from Detroit, spent her 19th birthday driving 13 hours home with her parents after the University of Kansas said students needed to move out of student housing during the spring semester.
Carbary does not have a car at KU, so her parents had to take time off from work to accommodate the abrupt move.
“I can’t just go home for two weeks at the drop of a hat,” Carbary says.
Students that do not have a car may not be able to see their families for longer periods of time. The lack of scheduled breaks this academic year has also limited the amount of time students can travel home, or take a break from school at all.
The Office of the Chancellor released KU's plan to return to campus on June 15. It removed fall and spring breaks, in an effort to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus throughout the United States.
“The academic calendar will change to minimize potential health hazards,” the Chancellor said in the statement.
Carbary says going home for fall break last year was nice because it gave her time to relax and not worry about what needs to be done for school. She is not sure if not having a break in pre-pandemic times would affect her grades, but this semester, she feels like she is doing significantly worse in her classes even though she feels like she is spending more time studying than ever.
“You’re supposed to be on Zoom,” Carbary says. “You’re supposed to watch the lecture. You’re supposed to do the homework and you’re supposed to meet every deadline and not complain and you’re supposed to do well on all of these things but if you were to do the math, like you probably are spending a lot more time than you ever have doing schoolwork.”
According to KU Online, online classes are “just as rigorous (if not more)”, than in-person classes. KU advises to set aside two to three hours of study time per online credit hour.
Derek Dunn, a junior from Valley Center, says his entire course load is online this semester. He believes students need designated time off.
“I feel like everyone knows that the schedule has been shortened so much it’s really harmed people’s ability to adequately understand and comprehend the material they’re reading,” Dunn says.
KU leaders say motivation is key when taking an online course; however, Dunn has found that more difficult this semester.
“I’m significantly less motivated than I think I’ve been in my previous two years at KU,” Dunn says.
Carbary says she feels like there is pressure for students to do well academically to create a sense of normalcy, but there are also not as many options to decompress. Events that used to be normal weekend activities for students, such as tailgating, are no longer allowed on campus.
To decompress, Carbary will spend time with a group of her friends she feels are following COVID-19 safety guidelines. Dunn likes to watch a movie or read a book to take his mind off of school.
Prajna Dhar, a professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at KU, has been an advocate for students to prioritize their mental health, especially during these often stressful times. Dhar says professors know the amount of stress students feel because they were students once before as well.
Dhar sent a message to her students to remember to take care of themselves and their mental health on World Mental Health Day. She says she sent this message because she wants her students to understand that it is alright to take a moment to realize that we are not always mentally okay.
“I think as students are realizing that I’m there for them and willing to talk to them, more and more students are starting to reach out to me personally,” Dhar says.
Carbary is in Dhar’s material and energy balances class and says that Dhar genuinely cares and wants students to succeed.
“She is my queen, I adore her,” Carbary says.
Dhar’s material and energy balances class is a hybrid course scheduled on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The class is split into three cohorts. Each cohort attends class in person once a week and online the other two days.
To provide a break in the class, Dhar will have designated weeks for exams. If a cohort takes the exam on Monday, they can be rewarded by not having to study and take the test Wednesday or Friday.
Dhar believes faculty members have the ability to introduce flexibility within their classes to create breaks for students. Students can use the time off to relax or work on other classes.
Looking forward, Dhar says she agrees with KU’s decision to not have a scheduled spring break due to COVID-19 surges that can occur after travel.
Emily Counsil, a junior from Neodesha, also agrees with KU’s decision to not schedule fall or spring break, but also wishes there was some form of a break during the semester. She says if she had two days off before a weekend, then she would use the time to go visit her family and destress.
KU made the decision to cancel breaks in classes to limit the possible spread of COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says students should avoid out-of-class social gatherings and events which are classified by the CDC as some risk instead of lowest risk.
“From an academic administration standpoint, I completely understand why they didn’t give us a fall break,” Counsil says. “However, from a student standpoint, I really would have appreciated one.”